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Saturday June 22, 2024

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s unique St. Andrews University traditions, from may dip to an ancient curse



Prince William and Kate Middleton’s alma mater, St. Andrews University, boasts unique traditions like the may dip, red gowns, and a centuries-old curse

As exam season grips the nation, students buckle down for intense revision sessions. Those aspiring to walk the same halls as royalty might look towards St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland, where Prince William and Kate Middleton first met. The prestigious institution, rich in history, boasts several unique traditions that add to its charm and allure.

Prince William initially pursued a degree in art history but switched to geography in his second year. He graduated with a Master of Arts in 2005, earning a 2:1. Kate Middleton studied art history and graduated with the same degree and honours that year. While their academic pursuits are well-documented, the unique traditions of St. Andrews remain lesser-known yet fascinating.

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The most iconic tradition at St. Andrews is the red gown. Introduced during the post-reformation period as part of the school uniform, the gowns originally aimed to curb underage drinking. Today, students don the red gowns for special occasions, such as formal dinners, University Chapel services, and the Pier Walk. First-year students wear the gowns fully on their shoulders, second-year students let them hang off their shoulders, while third-year arts students drape them off the left shoulder and science students off the right. By the fourth year, students wear the gowns off both shoulders, symbolizing their seniority.

Another intriguing tradition is the curse of Patrick Hamilton. In 1582, Hamilton was executed for his Protestant beliefs, and a cobblestone set of initials “PH” marks the spot of his death. Stepping on these initials, as legend has it, curses students to fail their degrees. However, there is a way to break this curse: participating in the May Dip. On the first of May, students run into the frigid North Sea at East Sands to wash away the curse and rejuvenate their academic spirits.

The May Dip, while exhilarating, is just one part of the university’s tradition-filled culture. Raisin Monday is another cherished event where third and fourth-year students “adopt” first-years as their academic children. This mentorship culminates in a weekend of festivities, ending in a foam fight at St. Salvator’s Quad. First-years, dressed in outlandish costumes provided by their mentors, gather for this lively event, which signifies their formal welcome into university life.

As the academic year draws to a close, another tradition emerges: soakings. Upon completing their final exams, graduating students are greeted by friends who douse them with cold water outside the exam venue. This celebratory soaking marks the end of their undergraduate journey and the beginning of their next chapter.

St. Andrews’ traditions, from the red gowns and ancient curse to the May Dip, Raisin Monday, and soakings, create a vibrant tapestry of student life. These customs, steeped in history, continue to define the university’s unique character, fostering a sense of community and continuity among its students.


The unique traditions at St. Andrews University offer a fascinating lens through which to view the institution’s culture and history. These customs, while seemingly quaint, play a significant role in shaping the student experience and fostering a sense of belonging.

Politically, the traditions of St. Andrews reflect the university’s historical ties to broader societal changes. The red gowns, for instance, originated during the post-reformation period, highlighting the influence of religious and political shifts on academic institutions. The curse of Patrick Hamilton further underscores this connection, as his execution for Protestant beliefs illustrates the period’s religious conflicts and their lasting impact on the university’s folklore.

Sociologically, these traditions serve to strengthen social bonds among students. The red gowns create a visual representation of student hierarchy and progress, fostering a sense of identity and tradition. Raisin Monday and the foam fight, through mentorship and communal activities, build relationships between students across different years, reinforcing a supportive academic community.

Economically, St. Andrews’ unique traditions contribute to the university’s allure, attracting students from around the world. The distinctive customs enhance the university’s reputation, making it a desirable destination for prospective students. This influx of students boosts the local economy, supporting businesses and services that cater to the university community.

From a local perspective, these traditions integrate the university with the town of St. Andrews. Events like the May Dip and Raisin Monday bring vibrancy to the local area, involving not just students but also local residents who participate as spectators or supporters. This integration fosters a strong town-gown relationship, enhancing the sense of community within St. Andrews.

Considering gender and race, the inclusive nature of these traditions is noteworthy. The rituals are open to all students, regardless of their background, promoting equality and shared experiences. However, it is crucial for the university to continually assess and ensure that these traditions remain accessible and welcoming to students from diverse backgrounds, avoiding any inadvertent exclusion or discomfort.

In conclusion, the traditions at St. Andrews University enrich the student experience, connecting them to the institution’s historical and cultural legacy. These customs, while steeped in history, continue to evolve, reflecting the dynamic nature of student life and the enduring appeal of St. Andrews.


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